Sunday, July 12, 2009

Roads Less Traveled

Ulvik is a small town in Norway, located on Hardangerfjord. It is a lovely place in early summer (heck, most of Norway is) with the quiet atmosphere of an out-of-the-way place.

Ulvik was our second walk, and our only 'walk to get there' trip. We got off the bus at Granvin and turned uphill. (This part - "turning uphill" - was a constant part of our trip. Really constant.)

The path began as a single-lane asphalt road, became a narrow unmarked asphalt road, twisted and turned, became gravel, and then we turned left off the road, and were on the trail.

It was called "the post road" because, until Ulvik got its own post office, the people used to walk over the mountian to check their mail (which came twice a week.) One way, the trip took three hours.


A few months back, a storm of protest arose on the internets in the space of 24 hours, because mis-labeled a whole stack of books, making them difficult to find on the webpages, and then (most horribly) failed to swiftly correct the problem. This storm arose on Easter Sunday.


As a long time reader of The Tightwad Gazette, I have found the recent spate of articles on 'living on a budget' interesting, and even occasionally helpful. Most of them echo the age old advice of "don't buy it if you don't need it' and 'pay your bills on time'.

Some articles go a bit further.

CNN linked earlier today to an article on 'disconnecting' - electronically, at least - and 'living simplier'. The thoughts shared in this article share a thread that keeps re-appearing in much of my recent reading on monks and other religious - that the distractions of modern life can help make us unhappy. You don't need stuff to make you happy.

I asked for all things so that I could enjoy life. I was given life that I might enjoy all things.

In the current economic situation - which many blame on the greed of lenders and bankers and/or the foolish materialism of those who bought things (including houses) that they couldn't pay for - not to mention the climate change debate which seems to hinge on condemning wasteful 'progress' and the pollution from industrial development - there seem to be many who agree. And it not a crisis because we don't have stuff? Because we don't have money to pay for stuff?

I think that one of the great gifts of modern civilization is all the 'stuff' we have - including the internet, post offices in our town, and paved roads. Oh, and open-heart surgeries, electric lights, and airplane travel. I think that having certain levels of 'stuff' - esp. food, shelter, physical security, and ways to learn more - makes us better people, and makes it easier to follow Christ, just as having a good night's sleep makes it easier to not scream at people who are annoying you. And let's hear it for things that make it easier to communication, like literacy, education, cheap paperback printing, telephones and the internet.

But I agree that the quest for getting more 'stuff' just to have 'stuff' is a distractor - and that it can make it hard to identify the most important 'stuff' for an individual person. And I think that individual choice is important. The publishers should go on printing tons of romance novels, even though I'll never read them, and there should be enough peas grown and harvested for people who like green peas to eat them. (I'll stick with SF and mysteries, and lima beans, thank you.) Ditto good cars for people who care what they drive, and big houses for people with big families.

We all, individually, need to pick what we need, and be willing leave lay what we don't. How learn this - and how to teach it, without denying access to things we don't think needful, but others might - that's a bit easier to say than to do.


Somewhat related: 100 Geek Skills. Also somewhat related: Heinlein's list of life skills.

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